Does the Big-Bang Theory Point to God?: Part I

By Ebu Aydin (guest contributor)
Student of the Risale-i-Nur 

Post-graduate Philosophy Student
Melbourne University

[This] is a paper I submitted for a Philosophy of Science subject I took.  The question I tackled was: Does the Big Bang theory point to God?  In it, I argue that even if the standard Big Bang theory turns out to be wrong, whatever theory replaces it must itself require a supernatural cause of some sort (and that such a cause needs to possess life and will). 

In this paper, I will argue that the Big-Bang theory points to a supernatural cause of the beginning of the universe, since the universe cannot have come from nothing.  I will say that the various counterarguments to my contention amount either to a denial of the causal principle, or rely on the claim that the physical world has existed eternally in some sense.  I will argue that both positions entail metaphysical impossibilities.

Nature editor John Maddox once complained that, “Creationists and those of similar persuasions wishing to find support for their opinions have ample justification in the doctrine of the Big-Bang”.[1]  That justification can be phrased in terms of the following argument:  Time, space and matter did not exist causally (as opposed to temporally) prior to the Big-Bang, thus the Big-Bang marks the beginning of the universe.  Since nothing can come from nothing, the universe requires a cause of its beginning.  Moreover, that cause must transcend space and matter, and must be timeless, at least sans the universe.[2]  It must thus be supernatural and powerful.

Since immateriality and powerfulness are among the very attributes ascribed to the God of theism, theists might say the Big-Bang theory points clearly to God.  But I think this is hasty.  For even if the above argument for a supernatural cause of the Big-Bang were to succeed, much further argument would be needed to identify this cause with any specific being/thing.  Any number of non-theistic supernatural causes, such as a deistic creator, might explain the Big-Bang just as well as God.  That being the case, my contention here will be simply that Big-Bang cosmology points to a supernatural cause of some sort.

One might object to my contention in various ways.  They might:

(1) Say that the universe came into being from nothing, or;

(2) Deny that the Big-Bang theory really points to a beginning to the universe, or a beginning to all of physical reality, or;

(3) Claim that since time was created in the Big-Bang, it is meaningless to ask what happened before it.

Since (3) can be dealt with just by positing that a timeless cause created the universe with time, rather than in time, I will focus instead on (1) and (2).

Objection (1): The universe came from nothing

In relation to objection (1), opponents of my contention might argue in two broad ways.  They might (1.1) deny the causal principle with respect to the universe’s beginning, and in effect say that the universe came to exist both from nothing and by nothing, so that its beginning is just a brute fact.  Or, (1.2) they might attempt to provide some causal account of how the universe could have emerged from nothing.

(1.1) From nothing, by nothing

Mackie contends that we have no good a priori reasons to think that something cannot begin to exist from nothing.[3]  Citing Hume, he notes that we can certainly conceive of such a thing.  But the proponent of the causal principle – that nothing can begin to exist causelessly – need not hold that a breach of the principle is inconceivable or logically impossible, in the sense of being contradictory like a four-sided triangle.  Rather, they need only hold that a breach is metaphysically impossible,[4] so that even if conceivable, it is not possible in reality.  As Jim Pryor notes, “the mere fact that I can conceive of something does not guarantee that that thing is genuinely possible”. [5]  I might rationally conceive of the universe just popping into being uncaused, but if this were genuinely possible, then it:

“… Becomes inexplicable why just anything and everything does not come into existence uncaused. It cannot then be said that only things of a certain nature come into existence uncaused, because prior to their existence, they have no nature which could control their coming to be.” [6]

One might object that contrary to what I have said, some things do begin to exist without cause.  Quantum-mechanical events, like the coming into existence of ‘virtual particles’, are sometimes cited as examples of this.  However, the term ‘uncaused’ is often used in a quantum-mechanical context to mean ‘indeterminate’ or ‘random’, rather than ‘uncaused’ in the sense of coming to exist with no causal antecedents at all.  Quentin Smith, for example, thinks that since the time of occurrence of certain quantum-mechanical events is in-principle unpredictable, they qualify as being ‘uncaused’. [7]  But in fact, there is a whole range of physically necessary conditions (like the operation of certain physical forces) that must obtain before these quantum mechanical events can occur. [8]  Thus these events, even if indeterminate in the sense of occurring randomly and unpredictably, are not uncaused in the relevant sense. [9]  As such, they fail to provide an exception to the causal principle.

(1.2) From ‘nothing’, via physical causes

Theoretical physicists such as Krauss[10] and Vilenkin[11] have attempted to show that the universe might have begun to exist from nothing not by nothing, but rather by the operation of certain physical mechanisms such as ‘quantum tunnelling’.

In the first instance, it’s hard to see how physical causes could be said to operate upon ‘nothing’.  But even letting this pass, there is another problem.  In the case of both Krauss and Vilenkin, the term ‘nothing’ is being used to refer to something quite other than ‘nothing’.  In Krauss’ model, the universe comes to exist from the quantum vacuum, which as Barrow and Tipler note, is far from being ‘nothing’:

“…For the quantum mechanical vacuum state has a rich structure which resides in a previously existing substratum of space-time…  Clearly, a true ‘creation ex nihilo’ would be the spontaneous generation of everything – space-time, the quantum mechanical vacuum, matter – at some time in the past.” [12]

In Vilenkin’s case, he imagines a small pre-existing universe that contracts to a point, where it has a radius of zero, then ‘tunnels’ back to a universe of finite radius through the operation of quantum-mechanical laws.  As Craig observes however, this is at every point a transition from something to something.  It is not, as Vilenkin later admits, a coming to be from ‘absolute nothingness’. [13]  In sum, neither Krauss’ nor Vilenkin’s model gives us reason to think that something can come from absolute nothing via the operation of physical causes.

Objection (2): Big-Bang not the absolute beginning

In relation to objection (2), opponents of my view might argue in a couple of ways.  Firstly, they might suggest that the Big-Bang does not point to a beginning to the universe at all.  On some variations on the standard Big-Bang model, the initial singularity is removed.  On the Hawking-Hartle model for example, prior to Planck time, time becomes a fourth dimension of space.  Moreover, this whole four-dimensional universe takes on a rounded shape, so that there is no defined beginning point (much like how the surface of a sphere has no beginning point). [14]  If the universe had no beginning point, such that some part or phase of it has existed eternally (or timelessly), then there is no need to invoke a supernatural cause. [15]

Alternatively, an opponent might suggest that one of the various ‘oscillating’, ‘quantum-fluctuation’ or ‘chaotic-inflationary’ models of the universe could be correct.  In the oscillating model, it is posited that there is an eternal process of expansion, contraction and re-expansion, and that the Big-Bang was the beginning only of the current phase of this eternal process.  On ‘quantum-fluctuation’ and ‘chaotic-inflationary’ models, our universe is but one part of wider background universe, or just one universe in a wider landscape/multiverse of universes. [16]  In all these cases, the Big-Bang does not occur from a singularity, but from some prior physical state(s).  As such, the Big-Bang would not signal the beginning of all of physical reality, but only a part of it.

There are various problems with the above suggestions.  In the case of the Hawking-Hartle model, time is turned into space only through the use of a mathematical device known as ‘imaginary time/numbers’.  Theoreticians using this device usually convert back to real numbers at the end of their calculations, to obtain a ‘realistic’ result.  But contenting himself with a non-realistic result, [17] Hawking merely declines to do so (for otherwise the singularity returns). [18]  Oscillating, quantum-fluctuation and chaotic-inflationary models on the other hand, all met insuperable internal difficulties and thus have never found wide acceptance in the scientific community. [19]

At this stage, an opponent might argue that it doesn’t matter that these particular models have deficiencies.  The point is that some future model might succeed in averting the Big-Bang singularity.  With no initial singularity, we’d lose whatever grounds we might have had for inferring a supernatural cause.  Moreover, if a natural explanation is possible, appealing to a supernatural cause amounts to a ‘gaps’ argument.

Contrary to the above objection, it seems to me that any future cosmological model that sought to avoid an initial singularity (as well as a supernatural cause), would encounter insurmountable philosophical hurdles.  I posit that there are only three broad ways that a model could account for the universe or wider multiverse (which I’ll hereafter refer to collectively as ‘physical reality’).  It could say that either:

(A) Physical reality had a beginning (as the Big-Bang theory does), or;

(B) Physical reality has existed for infinite time, or;

(C) Physical reality was in a timeless/motionless state, but then transitioned, naturally, into its present state of motion. [20]

Now, both (B) and (C) would avert the initial singularity.  But upon reflection, both categories of explanation seem metaphysically impossible.  That is, even if such explanations are conceivable, they entail states of affairs that cannot obtain in reality, as I shall now attempt to show.

(B) Physical reality has existed for infinite time

In relation to (B), to say that physical reality has exited for infinite time is to say that an ‘actually infinite’ number of changes or events has occurred in its past history. [21]  (By an ‘actual infinite’, I mean a completed totality – or a set – with an infinite number of members.)  However, the notion of an actually infinite number of real things/events seems absurd.  Mathematician David Hilbert illustrates this through his ‘Hilbert’s Hotel’ [22]:  Imagine that a hotel exists with an infinite number of rooms, every one of which is already occupied.  A new guest then arrives and asks for a room.  So the proprietor moves the guest in room 1 into room 2, the guest in room 2 into room 3, and so on ad infinitum.  This way, he makes room in room 1 for the new guest.  Yet prior to this, all the rooms in the hotel were already full.  Further, while one more guest has now been accommodated, the total number of guests is still identical: an infinite number.  But how can two sets of things have an identical number of members, when one has more members than the other?

One might respond that despite these apparent absurdities, actual infinities, and infinities of different sizes, really are possible since both are fruitfully used to do equations within Cantorian set theory. [23]  But this response seems inadequate.  For it is not being suggested that, given certain rules and axioms, actual infinity cannot be utilized in a consistent way within the framework of those axioms.  Where absurdities arise, is where one attempts to talk about actual infinities in the real world of physical events and objects, where the axioms of set theory do not apply. [24]  Coming back to Hilbert’s Hotel, let’s say that all the rooms are again occupied, but that now, every guest from room 4 on wards checks out, such that an infinite number of guests leave.  We now have three guests still left in the hotel, even though we just subtracted the same number of guests as was in the hotel when it was full: an infinite number.  This absurdity is avoided in mathematics by prohibiting subtractions involving actual infinities.  But as Craig points out, we can’t prohibit real guests from checking out of hotels using the axioms/rules of certain systems of mathematics. [25]

In short, I think it’s plausible to say that nothing in the real world, including the number of past physical events, can be actually infinite.  Thus, even if there exists some wider physical reality beyond our local (temporally finite) universe, this wider physical reality must itself have had a beginning, and hence, a non-physical cause.

(C) Physical reality transitions from a timelessly eternal state, to a state of motion

In relation to (C) above, it’s hard to see how a static (and thus inanimate) physical system could go from a timelessly/changelessly eternal state, to a state of motion, without some transcendent cause of that change.  For if the necessary and sufficient conditions for the occurrence of the change don’t already exist within the system, the change cannot occur.  But if the necessary and sufficient conditions have always existed within the system, it then becomes inexplicable why there was a beginning to its motion a finite time in the past. [26]

An objector might suggest that a supernatural cause, if also timeless, would face this same problem with respect to its creation of the physical world.  But let’s posit that this cause is a living one that has freewill (and power).  It can then freely choose to cause some change in the prevailing state of affairs.  Thus, it could go from existing changelessly and timelessly, to then creating a dynamic physical world with a beginning in time. [27]

In summary, if I am right that (B) is metaphysically impossible and that (A) and (C) are metaphysically impossible without a transcendent cause, then it remains that any future cosmological model would point to a supernatural cause – either because of the physical world’s having a beginning, or because of its present motion.

Conclusion

I have argued that the Big-Bang points to (some sort of) a supernatural cause of the universe, since it is metaphysically impossible for something to come from nothing.  I have further argued that alternative models, if philosophically viable, do not avoid the inference to a supernatural cause.

(Word Count: 2282 excluding headings and footnotes.)

 

Bibliography

[1] Maddox, J., “Down with the Big Bang”, Nature, 340.6233 (1989), p.425.

 

[2] Craig, W.L., “Cosmos and Creator”, Access Research Networks (1996),http://www.arn.org/docs/odesign/od172/cosmos172.htm#10, section 2.

 

[3] Craig, W.L., “Professor Mackie and the Kalam Cosmological Argument”, Religious Studies: 20 (1985), p. 371.

 

[4] Ibid.

 

[5] Pryor, J., “Necessity, Possibility and Conceivability”, UA1 – Central Problems in Philosophyhttp://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/courses/intro/notes/necessity.html

 

[6] Craig, W. L., (1985), op cit.

 

[7] Craig, W.L., “The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science: 44 (1993), pp. 623-639, Section II.

 

[8] Ibid.

 

[9] Ibid.

 

[10] Krauss, L.M., A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, Free Press, New York (2012).

 

[11] Vilenkin, A., “Creation of Universes from Nothing”, Physical Letters B, 117 (1982), p1.

 

[12] Barrow, J. and Tipler, F.J., The Cosmological Anthropic Principle, Clarendon Press: Oxford (1986), p.441.

 

[13] Craig, W.L., “Vilenkin’s Cosmic Vision: A Review Essay of Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes, by Alex Vilenkin”, Philosophia Christi (Summer 2009), pp. 232-238, accessed via: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/vilenkins-cosmic-vision-a-review-essay-of-many-worlds-in-one

 

[14] Craig, W.L., (1996) op. cit, Section 2.

 

[15] Craig, W.L., “The Ultimate Question of Origins: God and the Beginning of the Universe”, Astrophysics and Space Science, 269 (1999), p.732.

 

[16] Ibid, p. 727 & pp.729-30.

 

[17] Ibid, p.732-3.

 

[18] Ibid, p.731.

 

[19] Ibid, p.729-30.

 

[20] The Hawking-Hartle model, on one construal, amounts to this sort of explanation.

 

[21] I assume here that the conventional, or ‘A-theory’, view of time is the correct view.

 

[22] Craig, W.L., “The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe”, Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought, 3 (1991), pp. 85-96, accessed via: Leadership U, http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html section 2.1.1

 

[23] Reichenbach, B., “The Cosmological Argument”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Winter 2012 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/, section 5.2.

 

[24] Craig, W.L., (1991), op. cit., section 2.1.1.

 

[25] Ibid.

 

[26] Craig, W.L., Reasonable Faith, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois: (2008), pp. 153-4.

 

[27] Ibid.

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